The last Hammer film from gothic-era director Terence Fisher, and the final of eight Frankenstein films for the company, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell is both a deliberately anachronistic reminder of what made the company great, and a stark explanation for its slow death.
The setting is one of the series’ most evocative as Dr Simon Helder (Captain Cronos – Vampire Hunter’s Shane Briant)’s attempt to follow in Baron von Frankenstein footsteps, results in him following them far too closely – sentenced to five years behind the dungeon-walls of an asylum.
There he discovers Frankenstein (the iconic Peter Cushing) still alive, having turned the hospital into his playground, and two embark on a new wave of necromancy, with the aid of mute token beauty Sarah (Taste The Blood Of Dracula’s Madeline Smith).
Despite the death of his beloved wife Helen the year before, Cushing is on pristine form. Icy and precise, his predatory mannerisms are magnetic – giving every impression of only really noticing someone when they present themselves as a target for his bonesaw.
While it’s nice to see the Baron have a bit of a bromance too – harking back to Paul Krempe in the first film – Helder’s characterisation is wildly inconsistent.
Despite his attempt to follow in Frankenstein’s footsteps, he seems genuinely shocked to discover that dead inmates have been reanimated, and briefly takes on a stock Hammer hero and love interest role, before accidentally releasing the monster (Darth Vader’s David Prowse in a gorilla costume) when he tries to kill it in its sleep. Like a hero would.
There’s some strange lapses of reasoning from both supposed geniuses surrounding the monsters too – despite establishing the quasi-Neanderthal that reluctantly contributed his body to science being super strong and prone to slashing people with broken glass, it turns out to be a huge surprise that when resurrected and not restrained in any way, he immediately smashes a bottle and advances on them menacingly.
Fisher isn’t entirely focused either. Despite some fun moments and lovely shots – the inmate who believes himself to be God is pretty on the nose, and the brutal hosing down of Helder echoes better prison films – it’s a plod, with largely static direction and a clumsily staged climax.
Released in 1974, the same year as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell rolls up its frilly shirt and sprays everything down in (real, from a slaughterhouse) blood – all gloriously uncut and gratuitous for the first time, including a scene where Cushing kicks a brain around for no reason, and severs an artery with his teeth.
It’s all rather awkward, like a ‘cool’ supply teacher telling you to check out an indie band from six months ago. It’s not limited to the gore either, when Cushing drops ‘the rape bomb’ offhand, it’s so ill-advised and seemingly irrelevant to the story – it literally only comes up once – that it shocks you right out of the movie with all the wildly inappropriate force of David Brent bellowing “THERE’S BEEN A RAPE” in a team-building exercise
As far as the extras go, all but the flagship releases have tended to default to interviews with the same set of comprehensive, if dry, Hammer historians, but Frankenstein And The Monster From Hell raises the bar somewhat for one of the less significant films.
Certainly the Hammer house academics are out in force, neating you neatly through the film’s backstory and providing a boil in the bag critique to memorise and impress your friends with, but so too are stars David Prowse, Madeline Smith and Shane Bryant, as well as the daughter of the film’s director Terence Fisher who appears in a rather touching tribute to the architect of period gothic.